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Fire chief names burn victim honorary fire chief during family visit
Kaj Shrode receives fire helmet during Friday ceremony
FARMINGTON — Kaj Shrode will leave the Four Corners a little top heavy after receiving a special gift from Farmington Fire Department Station 5 crew.
Kaj, who the local nonprofit organization Peach's Neat Feet flew to town this week, was given a fire helmet with his name on it from Farmington Fire Department Chief Terry Page and Station 5 Capt. Chad Daniels on Friday evening.
“I think I’m going to take this thing home,” the 6-year-old said, donning the too-big helmet backward after Page swore him in as an honorary fire chief.
“It is heavy, you’re right. It's adjustable in the back, but it is heavy,” Daniels said, helping Kaj adjust the straps as the bill of the hat drooped down over his face.
Kaj and his family, who live in Evansville, Ind., visited Farmington this week as special guests of Peach's Neat Feet, an organization that “hustles kindness” and focuses on children with chronic illnesses or disabilities. The organization distributes custom-decorated shoes to sick and disabled children, sends care packages to families of chronically ill or disabled children, and hosts workshops encouraging local schoolchildren to practice kindness, according to its website.
Madison “Peach” Steiner, founder of the organization, said this is the first time the organization has been able to organize a visit for a child to the Four Corners.
Kaj has been involved in Peach’s Neet Feet for several years. As a 7-month old baby, he was waiting in his car seat while his father dropped off his grandmother when his 4-year old brother accidentally tossed a lighter into the backseat and ignited Kaj’s car seat, his mother, Amanda Shrode said.
Kaj suffered life-threatening burns — 60 percent of his body was burned, and one-third of his injuries were third-degree burns. He was immediately life-flighted to the Shriner’s Hospital for Children’s burn care center in Cincinnati, Ohio, where doctors told Kaj’s family he had 72 hours to live, Amanda said.
But Kaj held on, and five years and 42 surgeries later, the 6-year-old boy took his first plane ride to visit a community that has supported him throughout his long and ongoing recovery.
Amanda said a nurse at the Shriner’s Hospital contacted Steiner about Kaj, and Steiner became fast friends with the family after sending a care package while Kaj was in the hospital. Kaj and his family have been part of an extended community involved with Peach’s Neet Feet since then — Amanda said Kaj has already received three pairs of custom shoes from the organization.
Annie Smith, vice president of Peach’s Neet Feet, said the Shrodes' visit was funded through the organization’s “Tell Me the Story” T-shirt campaign and donations from the community. The family's visit — including Kaj's parents, Amanda and Robert; and siblings, 12-year-old Ella; 10-year-old Jamison, and 1-year-old Sebastian — cost approximately $4,000, and many other services, like haircuts and a fishing trip, were donated by local businesses and community members.
Amanda said the visit is a gift. Kaj’s injuries often confine him and his family to their home, and he is often in and out of skin-graft surgeries.
“He can only be outside at certain times of the year because he can’t control his body temperature, he has lung issues and heart issues, and stuff like that, so at home, it feels like a prison,” Amanda said. “He’s had 42 surgeries (since the accident), so we’re always bouncing from one recovery to the next (and) we get stuck at home. We’re usually at home in some type of recovery from something, so we get stuck there, so (Peach’s Neet Feet) wanted to give us the gift of freedom.”
Megan Petersen covers business and education for The Daily Times. Reach her at 505-564-4621 or email@example.com.